This interesting little beauty, the Smena Symbol, was produced in the USSR in the 80s. It’s part Bakelite, part metal, and unfortunately in parts now in my office. I made the mistake of trying to load the film into it while walking uphill across a busy street. I’m glad I got to run a roll through it before it took its rightful place on the Russian Camera Shelf at my house. The photos I made for this article are scanned and are not edited. I wanted to share the actual scan quality of the photos and see how the contrast and sharpness are without digital help.
The Camera Specs
This brick of Soviet optical technology sports the Lomo T43 40mm f/4 lens in 3 elements. It’s relatively sharp with decent contrast stopped down to f/8 or f/16. It’s totally zone-focus like most cheap cameras of the era. The viewfinder isn’t coupled to anything, and there’s going to be some parallax if the subject is close. It comes with a hot shoe and syncs at every speed, and it’s got a neat little drum-style counter on the back. It is lever-wind which is an upgrade from a lot of the cameras around this era.
Loading the Film Sucks
This part is no fun. It takes a bit of trial and error because it doesn’t have a slot to hold the film leader. You align the single tooth on the take-up spool and the two film advance gears on the back, shut the lid and hope for the best. It works well once you get the hang of it. I’d recommend taking one cheap roll and practicing the loading, because realistically your 36 shot roll will be about 24 by the time you get this friggin monster to take up the film properly.
The Focusing is Iffy
I don’t mean that in a bad way. Really. It just means the best way to use this camera is to NOT think about focus too much. This is a set-it-and-forget-it type of camera. Set the damn thing to f/8, focus to infinity, and go shoot. Use your sunny 16 to get you around on sunny days. However, if you try to be the good comrade and actually guess focus distances you might find yourself in a pickle. It’s just so much easier shooting it like a real point-and-shoot than to try and get technical with it.
The Shutter Speed is in Symbols
This is arguably one of the coolest features I’ve encountered on a camera like this. Normally it’s the focus that has the person->couple->people->mountains focus scale. The Smena Symbol has it, too. It also comes with a second dial on the lens. It reads (in symbols) sunny->partly cloudy ->cloudy ->mostly cloudy -> you should be using flash and long exposure modes. On the underside of the lens barrel are the actual markings that read: 250, 125,60,30,10,B … So you extra-cool hipsters can flip the camera upside down and impress your girlfriends with your amazing understanding of the exposure triangle. I’ll marvel in the simplicity of this camera.Butterfingers Dropped It!Yeah, I dropped it. While I have no intention to use this camera as a daily shooter, I am sore that it’s broken. I got it for a steal and it was fully functional which can be rare when ordering from Ukraine or Kyrgyzstan. So it’ll go on the shelf now. Maybe I’ll come across another one, but it’s not as sharp a camera to shoot with as one of my rangefinders. It has caused me to go back to the f/8 and be there mentality. It’s nice setting it to infinity and going out for a walk.